Turkish-Greek Aegean Dispute: A 6 Month Outlook (July 2022)


    Turkey and Greece are reviving their age-old dispute over territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. The dispute over the militarization of Greece’s eastern islands and illegal Turkish drilling operations are placing enormous strain on intra-NATO relations.

    KJ-1: It is unlikely that Turkey or Greece will escalate the present dispute through force in the next 6 months. 

    • Communal violence which erupted in Cyprus in the 1970s exacerbated Greco-Turkish relations [source]. The Cypriot question continually frustrates efforts at resolution.
    • Surveys conducted by Greece have revealed substantial deposits of natural gas within the disputed areas. Turkey contests Greek drilling rights and territorial sovereignty in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean [source]. 
    • A potential Turkish annexation of northern Cyprus may also inflame the Aegean crisis [source]. A 2002 law passed by Turkey qualifies attempts to extend Greece’s territorial waters as a ‘casus belli’ [source]. Nevertheless, both Erdogan and Mitsotakis agreed last month to keep the provocative language at a minimum [source].
    • When Turkish troops and Greek special forces clashed on the islet of Imia in 1996, there was no wider escalation [source]. A collision of Greek and Turkish frigates in August of 2020 also led to a decrease in belligerent rhetoric [source].
    • Turkey’s new warship is currently undergoing sea trials and will be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean by early August [source]. It is therefore likely that Greece and Turkey will engage in naval confrontations similar to the incidents in 2020.

    KJ-2: It is highly unlikely that Turkey and Greece will arrive at a meaningful compromise over Aegean maritime boundaries or airspace in the next 6 months.

    • The Hellenistic Armed Forces have remained on ‘high alert’ throughout the month of June [source]. Turkish fighter jets regularly transgress Greek airspace. In turn, The HAF regularly scrambles fighter jets in order to intercept Turkish overflights [source]. The provocative nature of territorial incursions decreases the likelihood of reaching a compromise on maritime boundaries in the next six months.
    • Turkey is using an outdated interpretation of maritime law in order to substantiate its EEZ claims. It is one of the few states which refuse to accede to UNCLOS III [source]. Moreover, it refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the Hague or engage in bilateral negotiations over territorial waters and airspace [source].
    • Turkey fears that the extension of Greek EEZ claims will limit its right of innocent passage through the Aegean [source].
    • The delivery of new Rafale fighter jets will likely imbue the Greeks with additional confidence, as will backing from the United States and Brussels [source].
    • Seismic surveys show that Greece is sitting on roughly 90 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. These deposits are potentially valued at 250 billion USD [source].

    KJ-3: It is highly likely that Turkey will continue to antagonize Greece and it’s European Union partners in the next 6 months with territorial incursions and bellicose rhetoric. 

    • Turkey’s Foreign Minister questioned Greek sovereignty over the entire Dodecanese archipelago. This inflamed his Greek counterparts and resulted in condemnation from NATO and the EU [source]. Turkey also persists in illegal drilling operations in the Aegean.
    • The development of Turkish amphibious assault capabilities will also likely alarm Athens further [source]. Additionally, Turkey calls the presence of Greek forces on the islands a prelude to war [source]. 
    • Turkish elections are quickly approaching. The Turkish Lira is contracting and the economy at large is suffering from a slow pandemic recovery [source].
    • Members of the Turkish opposition also use the issue of Greek sovereignty as a means of political advancement [source].
    • There is a widespread understanding in Turkey that the country has been deprived of its territorial integrity stemming from the loss of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1918 [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: July 10, 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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